Teacher, how do you spell ‘turd’?

I was surprised when a child asked me this the other day.  What on earth is she writing about, I wondered, given that the title of the story was supposed to be ‘My First Day at Pirate School’.

I obviously looked puzzled, so she elaborated, ‘I can spell first and second but I don’t know how to spell turd.

That’s one of the problems here – only the most competent linguists can pronounce ‘th’, and whilst you can understand the meaning most of the time, there are occasional moments of bewilderment/hilarity.  So ‘tree rabbits’ turned out to be Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail, and not some new arboreal species, and ‘The Tin Man’ was emaciated and not straight out of the Wizard of Oz.

Equally, some words are just plain ridiculous without the ‘th’, such as ‘he fell to the ground with a tud’, ‘cars today have an electronic trottle’ or ‘he offered his tanks to everyone’.

So we spend a lot of time practising – sticking our tongues out between our teeth and then breathing out and making a lisping, hissing sound, like a nest of angry cobras.

I have two new children joining my classes this week.  I don’t know why, but this name makes me laugh every time I look at it –

– imagine being called Jayvis Moo, and expecting to be taken seriously.

At the other end of the spectrum is a name I shall be taking very seriously –

No surname, just Azlan.  Am considering suggesting that we nip into the wardrobe together – although, on second thoughts, I left England to get away from the land of eternal winter, so perhaps I’ll keep the wardrobe door firmly closed … just in case.



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Chatting up a monk

When I saw the sign, I couldn’t resist –

I’ve always wanted to chat a monk up, so I dashed over to the monk assignation area.

My monk was called Claim, and he told me all about his life in the monastery and at the university attached to the monastery, where he studies Pali, which is a language similar to Sanskrit.

He’s an urban monk, and so he wears orange robes.  Urban monks get up at 5 am, pray and then meditate for an hour, before going out into town to collect donations of food in exchange for blessings.  He explained that the brown-robed monks are the rural monks, who get up at 4 am and meditate for 5 hours a day …  so they’ve definitely drawn the short straw.  Although, thinking about it, there’s probably not much else to do out in rural Thailand.

Rather endearingly he told me that he wanted to learn English because he’d enjoyed Harry Potter so much.  I can’t imagine many Christian monks embracing witchcraft and wizardry with such enthusiasm.

After the monk chat session, I went to look around the temple, where the urban monks seemed to be having a jolly game of musical chairs.

Presumably the rural monks had all gone back to the jungle for some more meditation.

The monks’ garden was full of words of wisdom, hanging from trees, and I was rather taken with this one –

I imagine some poor, homely-looking monk painstakingly writing it out, whilst looking enviously over his shoulder at the monastery pin-up boys, flexing their biceps as they stride confidently across the courtyard for a bit of monk chat.

I didn’t just visit monks while I was in Chiang Mai, I also went on a trip to the Karen tribe, who live up in the hills outside the town.

This poor woman was having a lot of problems with her itchy woollen stockings

She was rubbing half a lime up and down her legs – I wasn’t sure if it was a tradional cure, or whether she was just a little strange.

The Karen grow coffee, and I tasted my first fresh coffee berry

I was surprised that it was really sweet and I suppose that’s why the weasels like them so much.  But I decided against making my own version of weasel coffee, and spat my coffee bean out –

The flowers in Northern Thailand are beautiful.  There are lots of cherry trees, which were a gift from Japan –

and they look stunning against the brilliant blue sky.

I also saw rhododendrons in their native habitat –

– they are apparently native to the Himalayas, and the highest mountain in Thailand is the easternmost peak of the Himalayas.

Bizarrely, there is a huge garden halfway up the mountain which is full of dahlias, snapdragons, delphiniums and all sorts of other plants that I have in my garden in England.  It’s a temperate garden project which was started by the last king to encourage the locals to grow something other than opium.

I did spot a few poppies –

but presumably they are not of the hallucinogenic variety.  And with the drug penalty being what it is in Thailand, I didn’t much fancy giving them a try.



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First, coat your elephant liberally with mud …

Have just returned from a few days in Chiang Mai, where I learnt two very useful new skills  – firstly, how to give an elephant a mud bath, and secondly, how to wash the mud off again.

The elephants at the rescue centre have been rescued from performance venues in Thailand – all except the baby, who is three months old and was born there –

– he’s absolutely adorable.

First, we had to feed the elephants with pieces of chopped up bamboo … and that was when I felt something long, sinewy and warm snaking around my waist …

… they have no qualms at all about invading your personal space if there’s food involved.

Then we took them to the mud pool and covered them in the gooiest mud I’ve ever come across.

The elephants loved it, but I wasn’t quite so keen; mud wrestling has never been high on my list of possible hobbies.

After the mud, we washed them in the most beautiful clear water – well, it was clear before the elephant washing began – in the pool beneath a waterfall.  The water was freezing –

and the elephants – sneaky rotters – kept sucking up trunkfuls and spraying it all over us –

I was not amused …

But I managed to get my own back by feeding them their medicine –

which they weren’t too keen on – even though he does look as though he’s smiling in this photo.

After that it was a quick shower with a bar of soap under the power-shower waterfall to try and get rid of the worst of the mud

and then back into town, upskilled and upbeat. What a great day!


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What do Donald Trump, the Prince of Wales and three ugly-looking ladies have in common?

The answer could well be that they all have names that I find easy to remember – which is a definite bonus these days.

The new school year has brought with it a whole set of new name problems for me … and I used to think I was good with names.

Having finally got to grips last year with the unfamiliar Chinese names, and got accustomed to the retro British names, I now find myself back to square one.

For a start, I have a whole set of names that haven’t been seen in a school register in England since the 1950s.  In one class there’s Valerie and Clive, who sound more like veterans of the golf club than nine-year-old children.  Then there’s Muriel, who is always referred to as Unfortunate Muriel, for a variety of unfortunate reasons.  Marvin and Mervyn sound like a couple of second-hand car dealers, while Audrey must be the mad maiden aunt who’s probably into spiritualism.

Bryan is still the single most popular name in the school, and I have at least one per class.  Then there’s Dim Keith, Fat Ian, and Kayleb, whose parents are obviously into phonetic spelling.  Cherbelle and Crystalbelle sound so like Disney characters that I wasn’t surprised when a boy accidentally referred to Crystalbelle as Tinkerbell one day, much to his embarrassment once he realised his mistake.

Then we come to the Chinese names, and I seem to be beset with Xs and Ys this year, with a few Js thrown in just to add to the confusion.  In one class there’s Yu Xin, Xin Hui, Xin Yen, Hao Yen, Ya Jing – and in another there’s Chui Yi, Jia Yi, Shu Yi, Jian Jie and Jia Min.  I just call out a name and try not to look as though I have no idea which child I’m talking to.

Another difficulty with Chinese names is that there seems to be no way of distinguishing between boys’ names and girls’ names – so Li-Ann is a girl, but Lian-Ann is a boy – and what’s more he’s a boy who I accidentally called Denise one day, because he and Denise have the same surname … oh dear!

And finally – what do Donald Trump, the Prince of Wales and three ugly-looking ladies have in common?

The answer is, of course, that they have all been unmasked as robbers and are now banged up in prison for the next ten years – what an interesting thought.



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You can wear any colour you like … as long as it’s red

Things are hotting up for Chinese New Year next week.  Interestingly, it’s always called Chinese New Year, or CNY, even by the Chinese.  In our usual imperialist way, the West seems to have commandeered the term ‘New Year’ for 1 January – so perhaps we should embrace diversity, acknowledge that other New Years exist and start calling our celebration Gregorian New Year?  Just a thought.

CNY is a bit like Christmas is for us, and the celebrations start weeks ahead.  Last week I managed to gatecrash the KL Senior Citizens’ Karaoke Club CNY Lunch

and a jolly fine time we had too.

There are decorations everywhere – my local mall has gone for the Japan-in-the-Springtime look, with blossom-laden trees

and a bridge which Monet would have happily given gardenroom, I feel sure –

plus the ubiquitous Chinese lanterns, of course.  I’ve lost count of how many of those I’ve seen over the past few weeks.

Even Marks and Spencer is offering CNY hampers

and has a fetching display of cardboard lanterns in the entrance –

The local market has gone for dragons and lanterns –

with individually wrapped CNY mandarins –

or – more impressively – apples with a festive greeting branded onto them –

Children are given money in small red envelopes called ang pau, and the local Chinese restaurant has gone all artistic and tied them to their trees

So let’s hope it doesn’t rain between now and next Friday.


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